A review of reception centres in the Uusimaa region suggests that a majority of asylum seekers have completed primary education, while around half have attended high school or other secondary school. Seven out of 10 asylum seekers said they have completed at least seven years of basic education.
The study was aimed at predicting future needs for refugee education.
Twenty-seven percent said they have had higher education, with 16 percent holding degrees, typically bachelor's degrees. Some seven percent have no formal education, with about the same proportion being completely illiterate.
The study, commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture, was handed over to education minister Sanni Grahn-Laasonen on Monday. She commented that migrants' face too lengthy a path to education and employment in Finland.
The survey was carried out by the language testing firm Testipiste. Since January, it has interviewed more than 1,000 asylum seekers from 32 countries at 14 reception centres in the southern Uusimaa region, which includes Helsinki. The interviewees were aged 18-39, and 90 percent were men. Nearly two thirds were from Iraq.
Finnish classes should start at reception centres
Roughly one tenth of reception centre residents surveyed reported having taken vocational studies, most often in the construction or industrial sectors. Nearly three quarters, however, will need training or practice in reading and writing the Latin alphabet.
The report recommends that Finnish-language instruction begin at reception centres – even though the Interior Ministry estimates that nearly two thirds of asylum applications will be rejected. It suggests that the construction sector would be a likely potential area for future employment, and that in the capital region this would be possible with only Arab language skills. However as much as 80 percent of those who have worked in the building sector in their home countries will to improve their reading and writing skills in their native language at least to have a chance of working here.
"The construction [industry] has strict occupational safety requirements," Testipiste's training director Virva Muotka said at Monday's presentation. "You have to be able to earn worker safety cards and certificates in some language at least."
Strong literacy required for building and transport jobs
The transport sector also highly standardised and requires employees to pass many tests. No-one with weak literacy skills can be hired as a professional driver in Finland, she noted.
Nine-tenths of asylum seekers who took part in the poll have work experience, most often in construction (27 percent) or transport (21 percent). Many others have worked at shops, hotels, restaurants and the cultural sphere. Nearly one in five has an entrepreneurial background.
Grahn-Laasonen admits that there has been inefficiency and a lack of logic to training of immigrants so far.
"Immigrants have been steered into training based on what is available rather than according to individuals' needs and know-how," she said.
The report urges that classroom studies and language training run parallel to hands-on internships and vocational training. It also calls for moves to boost interaction between immigrants and the native population.